This Is Us is in rarefied air, thanks to compelling storytelling, heartbreaking performances and tear-jerking twists. But the most underrated ingredient to its incalculable success is something that’s right under everyone’s nose: the score. Composer Siddhartha Khosla, of Goldspot fame, is the man responsible for opening up those tear ducts -- not that the show needed the help.
Khosla has deep ties to This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, with whom he attended University of Pennsylvania more than two decades ago. After dipping his toe in television scoring with Fogelman’s acerbic alien comedy, The Neighbors, it was almost a no-brainer when his college pal floated him an early script for This Is Us last spring seeking out his thoughts.
“It was thoughtful, beautiful [and] honest. It made you cry,” Khosla recalls in a chat with ET. “It pulled at your heartstrings in a really beautiful way and inspired me to write. That was the beginning of This Is Us for me.”
Maybe it was their unique connection from college that put the two creative minds on the same page. Khosla remembers having just a handful of conversations with Fogelman about what he wanted the music of the show to invoke. “All Dan said to me was, ‘Look, we want to do something elevated here, and we want it to be really special,’” Khosla shares. Only 13 episodes in, the accompaniment on This Is Us has been exactly that: simplistic, emotional and poignant in all the best ways.
“We discovered that the music needed to evoke the feeling of the show and I discovered that relying on simple instrumentation, like acoustic guitar, even playing percussion and drum-type textures on my acoustic guitar, using my cellos and my voice as part of the score, felt like the right thing to do,” he says.
“It’s important to not necessarily score what’s happening in the scene, but to look at why the characters are doing what they’re doing, what motivates them to have the conversation they’re having and why they’re in the position they’re in,” Khosla adds. “You’re scoring something larger.”
Early on in the show’s run, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), Rebecca (Mandy Moore), Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) each had their own themes. But as the season has progressed and audiences have latched onto the characters, Khosla has moved away from that -- instead, composing larger thematic pieces to accompany the four- to five-minute montages that will become a frequent part of the DNA in coming episodes.
“This conversation is very relevant for the second half of the season because it is extremely emotional. It gets dark in places [and] it hits a different kind of nerve in a really good way,” he hints. “It’s powerful. There are highly cathartic moments that the characters are experiencing.”
Khosla’s favorite scene that he’s scored (and one he still gets emotional talking about) begins with Kate in pound class before she flashes back to pivotal moments throughout her childhood, including the tragic memory of her father’s death when she was a teenager.
“The scene starts off with them hitting their sticks in an arrhythmic pattern and I started playing my acoustic guitar to that rhythm. There was something transcendental, meditative about it,” Khosla says of how he wrote that scene, staying away from the stereotypical “yoga kind of music” with “Indian instruments just for the sake of evoking an emotion.”
“It became this organic thing that really came from the emotion that I imagined her feeling, remembering her father’s funeral,” he continues, adding that the characters are “so beautifully established by now that it makes my job easy.” “I don’t have to make the audience feel anything because the characters are already doing it. That’s one thing that allows me to step outside the box a little bit.”
There are moments in which Khosla feels the need to step away from his recording studio after watching a particular scene (“I cannot even tell you the number of times there’s either been tears falling on my piano or tears falling on guitar strings”), but he uses his emotions to his benefit. In a way, he is us.
“At the end of the day, it might only be me that notices and I might watch that scene and think to myself, ‘Oh you’re such a little baby. You cried like a baby during that Kevin and Kate scene!’ But no one else will know that,” Khosla says with a chuckle. “I think people feel it though. The show has resonated with people on a huge level. I definitely feel the music can help open up those tear ducts.”
It isn’t a secret This Is Us is broadcast TV’s most-watched and critically acclaimed new hit of the year -- a phenomenon that’s becoming rarer and rarer now. But Khosla has a simple explanation for why the show has been embraced by everyone.
“The show is so incredibly well-balanced between the serious, dramatic moments and life’s lighter moments that when anything happens that’s unexpected, it makes you jump out of your seat,” he reasons. “But at the same time, you realize that that’s what life’s about and life surprises you and this show is honest about those surprises. You’ll see life unfold as it naturally does in the second half of the season, and there are moments that will continue making you cry and make you hug your loved ones.”
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.